The Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs Rui Machete will meet Wednesday, in Washington, US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss bilateral “matters of common interest’ concerning Portugal and the United States.
Rui Machete and John Kerry “will review bilateral and multilateral issues regarding the relationship between Portugal and the United States,” and “issues of common interest for the international agenda,” Rui Machete announced on Monday in a statement.
Maintaining in full operation the Lajes Air Field on Terceira Island, Azores, will be one of the main topics of discussion. Syria and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea are other issues in the agenda.
Last December, the United States Senate voted on a provisional measure, with a specific reference to reviewing the status of Lajes Air Field, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign.
The provisional measure recommends keeping the US military facility on Terceira island at full capacity until further notice. It also recognizes the importance of the Lajes Air Field in the context of the ongoing reevaluation process of restructuring the US military presence in Europe.
The President of the Government of the Azores, Vasco Cordeiro, underlined the importance of the meeting between Kerry and Machete, stressing that “now the word is on the side of the Department of Defense.” Cordeiro added that a matter of concern “is the showing of respect and dignity throughout the diplomatic process in the context of the long relationship between Portugal and the United States.”
In 2012, citing budgetary constraints, the US Administration had announced it was planning to downsize its military operations and personnel in the Lajes Air Field. The reduction would have saved an estimated $35 million annually.
The Lajes Air Field, one of seven main operating bases under US Air Forces in Europe, would lose more than 400 military personnel and 500 family members. The decision could significantly affect the local economy, since more than 700 Portuguese civil workers at the US air field would lose their jobs. The US base is the island’s second largest employer.
According to Rui Machete, an alternative plan for the use of the Lages Air Field is now being debated. The Portuguese Government is exploring “possible alternative, non-military uses for Lajes […] always on the assumption that concrete action can only move forward when it is known definitively the extent of reduction of US military forces.” he stated.
The Lajes Air Field provides refueling and other support to U.S. military and NATO aircraft and crewmembers transiting over the Atlantic Ocean.
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